WASHINGTON (AP) — Both Republican and Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday stepped up pressure on the Obama administration to support Ukraine with weapons to defend against attacks from pro-Russian rebels.
"To not decide is to decide," Chairman Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said.
Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told the committee that the U.S. is watching whether the so-called Minsk agreements, which led to last month's cease-fire, are implemented. She noted that President Barack Obama and European leaders have agreed to deepening sanctions against Russia if the cease-fire agreement is further violated.
"We are watching the implementation of Minsk. We do have concerns now about new firing on the ground now in the last couple of days," she said. "I do think that the environment on whether this is implemented will affect the calculus both on the sanctions side and on the security support side."
Russian President Vladimir Putin denies arming rebels in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 6,000 people and forced over a million to flee their homes. The fighting began in April, a month after Russia annexed the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.
U.S. lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties have repeatedly urged Obama to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons. Many European governments, however, oppose any U.S. move to provide military support for Ukraine's government, fearing that might spark a wider proxy war.
Nuland said says Obama has received recommendations and advice from Cabinet agencies, but that he has not yet decided on the issue of sending arms to Kiev. Nuland declined to say whether the State Department has advised the White House to send arms to Ukraine.
Many members of the committee asked what is holding up the decision.
"There is no shortage of the will to fight, only a shortage of defensive weapons," Royce said.
"Last week, I met with the first deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament who said that his country urgently needs anti-tank weapons. ... He needs radar to pinpoint enemy fire in order to do the counter battery work to suppress that artillery. And he needs communications equipment to overcome Russian jamming."
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., agreed: "Last month I met with President (Petro) Poroshenko....His request was simple. Provide Ukraine with key weapons and military technology to defend itself. Specifically Ukraine needs light anti-tank missiles to protect itself and its rebels attacking with heavy Russian-supplied armor, not to evict the thousands of Russian troops inside Ukrainian borders."